Creation reports in the Ancient Near East (I)

F. C. Fensham was my teacher in Ancient Near Eastern history and his friend was S. J. du Toit of Potchefstroom University. Du Toit wrote extensively on the topic of the Creation Reports of the Ancient Near East and their comparison to the Biblical account. Both are Calvinists. Prof. Fensham was W. F. Albright's student. My Masters Degree was done under a student of prof. Fensham but prof. Fensham was the examiner.

Both professors wants the listeners and readers to understand that the literary kind of Genesis is of importance for the understanding of the book. It is not about literary coloring in of descriptions but about events. The stories have the underlined form of history. At the same time, they wish readers to understand that the report did not mean to register facts according to the nineteenth century understanding of objectivity. They wish to see it as historical description in a pre-scientific way. The history is revelation-history about issues far byond the horizons. No human being were present at Creation. Seventh Day Adventists look at this slightly at variance here than these Calvinists. What is reported in Genesis is indeed facts, albeit excerpts of reality, thus incomplete as to the whole process involved. However, the process itself was completely scientific although not always the way we understand science or are able to understand science since God can defy current principles of science because He is God. Science is not in contrast to the events at Creation but support it and the polarization and contrast created today by modern science is as a result of their epistemological adherence to classical Darwinism or links thereto, called evolution. Revelation is a rehearsal process like watching a video and God rehearse the process either to Adam and Eve passed on to humanity orally and written form through the centuries. Noah could have known Abraham since Abraham (born 2229 BCE) was 60 years old when Noah died in 2169 BCE. Passing on the correct detail of events of Genesis is thus a reality until Moses was schooled by his mother between 1530-1518 BCE before he went to the palace of Hatshepsut for his palace years. Killing the Egyptian in 1490 BCE and fleeing to Midian see the composition of Genesis, at least around 1460 BCE. In the Karnak reports of the deeds of Thutmosis III we are told by the scribe that he wrote on the walls what he saw on the velums/papyri so that Moses could have had similar sources of Noahic and Adamic accounts with him running away. Seventh Day Adventists treat the Genesis account as Revelation but also as History and also as Science. There is no contrast or conflict between any three of these aspects of the process of Creation.

The cosmology of the Ancient Near East is seen by Frankfort as a "mulitplicity of approaches". The concept of world image is foreign for the Ancient Near East, says Du Toit (Du Toit 1971: 75). The origin of this is for Du Toit the possibility that they did not strive on that total image but were satisfied with a composite of aspects. Du Toit has a problem to understand the image of the World from the Old Testament and he cannot see one unified understanding. The cosmogony and cosmology of the Ancient Near East and Old Testament, in our understanding, should not be confused. The Old Testament did not open a topic and dealt with cosmological understanding of Israel. From texts here and there we have to make conclusions as to what their cosmology concept was. Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible and also the book of Job. In Job we have the words of Moses saying that God hanged the world up on nothing. Moses' concept of the Pleiades constellation is also very informed when he asked who can break the links of the Orion? The nebulae that links the stars of the Pleiades can only be seen with a telescope. Moses then did not cling to a cosmology of an earth on pillars as the Middle Ages misinterpreted from the Old Testament. That concept of the Middle Ages was not from the Bible but a grabbing of a text here and there and a self-construction of a collage which then was sanctioned as the biblical picture. Far from it. The earth is not a paper and square. It is a ball or an egg. Already in Hellenistic times all three options were popular and that the Middle Ages clinged only to the paper understanding is probably because the Scriptures were taken out of public domain during those centuries.

When it comes to the comparison of Genesis with the Ancient Near East, Du Toit pointed out that there are two approaches: a) that Genesis 1 provides a complete new revelation (J. L. Koole, GTT 1963: 105-106). Du Toit feels that the comparisons with the Enuma Elish makes this idea actually not possible. Seventh Day Adventists will differ on this aspect with the Calvinists.

b) that Genesis 1 is a replica of what Babel teaches on Creation. This was the view of the pan-babylonianists. Adventists are very aware and sensitive of Pan-Babylonianism as a hermeneutical pathology. Gerhard Hasel pointed this danger out a number of times in his books on Hermeneutics.

Du Toit listed a number of scholars and their suggestions as to the approach best favored:

Herman Ridderbos suggested that the Genesis prophet is a painter with colors and he painted with stripes that he borrowed from the world as he knows it (Ridderbos, Gereformeerde Weekblad 7/2 [1962]).

William Albright felt that much of the high culture of Mesopotamia was brought over from Mesopotamia by the patriarchs no earlier than the 16th century BCE and that is the reason there are correspondences in Genesis 1-11. In Genesis 1 then there are elements from Babylon and Phoenicia which the inspired writer then demithologized. Genesis 2 was seen by Albright as definitely from Mesopotamian origin. The Hebrew ed comes from the Sumerian ID for river. The aspect of a single cosmic source that broke up in four streams is also an indication for Albright that Genesis 2 is Mesopotamian in character (Albright, Biblical Archaeology, 102).

In contrast to these ideas of Ridderbos and Albright, Du Toit listed other non-acceptable ideas:

A. Kuenen and A. Pierson who rejected the veracity of Genesis 1 and 2 and the Patriarchal history. They rejected angels, miracles and worked thus with a hermeneutics of suspicion. There were even talks that there were a falsification of facts (Babylonian Genesis, 3).

Pan-Babylonianism at the beginning of the Twentieth Century were very exited about correspondences between the Creation report of Genesis and the Babel reports of the Enuma Elish. Du Toit pointed out that the trend of these pan-babylonianist scholars was to see everything in the Bible from Babel and that the Biblical report was an imitation of the Babylonian Creation report. The scholar Hugo Winckler thought that the Creation concepts of Babylonia spread over the Ancient world of that time and he used the words: heavenly image = world image, macro-cosmos = micro-cosmos (Du Toit 1971: 77).

Jensen tried to see the Gilgamesh Epic in the Old Testament. Friedrich Delitzsch delivered papers in 1902 in which he tried to say that the Old Testament is fully dependent upon Babel. Beek reacted against this and said that a careful scientific investigation showed that pan-babylonianism is not possible. Whereas Pan-Babylonian scholars tried to see the correlation with the Bible with Babel, S. Yahuda tried to show that the Creation report of the Bible compare strongly with Egyptian examples.

Adventists will react here by saying that the Gilgamesh epic originated in Niniveh of Ashurbanipal and that Jewish scribes were deported there since 723 BCE and that correlations or assimilation of Mosaic concepts of Genesis and Babylonian material hinting to the same passed event, will then be "aligned" stronger, by the Jewish scribes or copyists of Babylonian traditions. Yahuda's Egyptian investigations are not out of place, since Moses spent in the palace with Hatshepsut and young Thutmosis III at least from 1518-1490 BCE, a period when he had his highschool and university training learning Egyptian and Babylonian languages fluently. Without these languages, the book of Job cannot be properly understood. Certain words in the Creation report cannot be understood without a proper use and comparison with Middle Egyptian, the language that Moses knew so well. The test for scholars is this: they should not only compare Gilgamesh or Enuma Elish with the Creation and Flood reports. They should compare the Gilgamesh report of the Flood with earlier reports to see if the tradition of the earlier reports also contain similar detail. If not, if there was additions later towards what one can see in the book of Genesis, then indeed, Jewish scribes were involved. This comparison was already done by this researcher in 1996, and whereas with the Flood story, the Sumerian boat was built in 1750 BCE with reeds, the Gilgamesh epic of the boat in 650 BCE when Israel was in Niniveh as scribes describes a Titannic of similar proportions as the Bible. Du Toit disagree on this point and actually stated that investigations showed that the Babylon connection of the Old Testament is stronger than the Egyptian one (Du Toit 1971: 77). This is actually not true and many of the hapax legomena in the book of Job and elsewhere are still today not clear simply because people did not consider a comparison with forms similar in Middle Egyptian. This researcher has done a number of such comparisons with surprising results.

People like Rudolph Bultmann spoke of myths in the Bible. A myth is a mixture of reality with what is not real. For scholars of the hermeneutics of suspicion it does not make a difference whether the patriarchs existed or not. They are not interested in the truth of the Bible, only the tendense or pointe (Du Toit 1971: 77).

The Tradition-Geschichtliche school of the Scandinavian scholars spoke of legends. Especially G. von Rad worked on this and decided nearly all are myths. Von Rad also considered myth as history. He felt it was the way in which a nation experienced its history and imagined it and that this imagination is sometimes more important than exact descriptions. He felt that the myths of Genesis were cult legends of heathen origin that was transformed through the specific Israelite faith in God. The faith concentration then supplied form to the Genesis report of Creation. This is theological historiography. The salvation history of Israel was then formed by the faith of Israel and not the other way around. Du Toit says that when Von Rad is asked the question: "From where the faith?" Von Rad does not have any answer (Du Toit 1971: 77).

Du Toit felt against Von Rad that many scholars realized in 1971 that the "Eigenbegrifflichkeit" (the own nature) of the Babel and Israel reports is more important, namely, to demonstrate differences rather than correspondences (Du Toit 1971: 78).

Adventist students need to realize that many of these aspects have been addressed by Adventist scholars in the past.


1. The books of Gerhard Hasel on Interpretation and Hermeneutics or Old Testament Theology or Basic Issues in Old Testament Theology, all dealt with these issues. Michael Hasel, his son, wrote a complete bibliography of his father, and it will pay well to look into that bibliography for his views on these matters.


2. This researcher has also spent time on many of these matters: at VAN WYK NOTES


66 Usher, Ellen White and Darwin on the Age of the Earth

376 (Old Series) Gilgamesh Epic did not have a long tradition (a critical view)

3 (Old Series) Israelite Midrash at Niniveh cuneiform tablets citing and reworking from Isaiah

671 (Old Series) Index to Assyriology compiled from Weidner 1914-1922. Under the heading "creation" there are a number of articles in this period (1914-1922) dealing with the Sumerian and Akkadian concepts of creation.

682 (Old Series) Moses' Egyptian Dictionary: Egyptian influences on Moses' Hebrew of Job (A)

467 (Old Series) Psalm 104, Creation theology, Aton Hymn and Mosaic origin


3. The book by Lloyd A. Willis, Archaeology in Adventist Literature 1937-1980 (AUSDDS vol. 7) is full of valuable information on Adventist articles and positions on aspects above with scholars like L. Wood, S. Horn, E. Thiele, W. Shea et al.


4. The book of S. du Toit, Ou Testament en Ou Ooste (Potchefstroom: Pro Rege-Pers Beperk, 1971) is valuable in chapter 4 dealing with Creation and concepts of the Ancient Near East.